Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bill advances to quicken sex assault exam kit testing

The state Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan measure Wednesday to eliminate a backlog of sexual assault examination kits dating back to the 1970s.

Known as Senate Bill 63, it would establish policies and procedures for the swift and proper handling of the kits, said Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville.

“During the 2015 legislative session, I sponsored Senate Joint Resolution Bill 20 which required all law enforcement agencies to report the number of untested assault kits to the Auditor of Public Accounts,” said Angel, who sponsored SB 63. “The resolution passed unanimously through both chambers and the audit revealed 3,090 untested kits. Throughout the 2015 interim, I held meetings with stakeholders from various law enforcement agencies and Senate Bill 63 is the result.”

Specifically, SB 63 would require Kentucky’s more than 300 police departments and 120 sheriff’s departments to pick up sexual assault kits from hospitals within five days’ notice from a hospital that the evidence is available, submit the kits to the state crime lab within 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests.

The measure would also require the average completion date for kits tested not to exceed 90 days by July 2018 and not to exceed 60 days by July 2020. It currently takes about eight months for a kit to be tested once it has been submitted to the lab. The progress of the testing would be reported annually to the Legislative Research Commission and state auditor’s office.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said SB 63 was amended to provide the state crime lab relief from the testing deadlines if it does not receive additional tax dollars to cover the added work. He said the governor’s proposed budget includes $4.5 million needed to do the additional testing, but the General Assembly has yet to approve a budget.

“The objective is to make sure we do not have another backlog like this again,” Westerfield said of SB 63.

The measure now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.